Caltong’s Story, Part 3: Slowly Stepping Forward
"He would just say 'I cannot,'" said mom Chunhui Li. "We didn't know if it was physically cannot or emotionally cannot. He was trying very hard, but he would shake and could not balance."
Ten days earlier, a car accident crushed Caltong's chest, collapsed one lung and left him struggling to breathe. Packard Children’s pediatric trauma experts stabilized him in the Stanford Emergency Department, then coordinated with dozens of specialists to monitor his brain, lungs, broken bones and other injuries during a week in the pediatric intensive care unit at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.
Now, in a non-intensive care room at Packard Children's, Caltong was beginning his rehabilitation. But even getting out of bed was difficult. Unable to fully understand why his body would not cooperate, Caltong needed care that took both his injuries and his young age into account.
Chunhui and her husband, Yuming Liu, appreciated the gentle and flexible approach of Packard Children's staff. If Caltong's physical therapist visited his hospital room when he was too tired for any exercises, the therapist showed Chunhui and Yuming what to try later.
"Little patients sometimes cannot follow orders," Chunhui said. "If you push them more, they may be very strong and say 'No.' Here, the nurses and therapists work with the parents instead."
"We really elicit parents' help," agreed nurse practitioner Raji Koppolu, who cared for Caltong. "We want to make sure they're participating in their child's care as much as possible."
Yuming and Chunhui were also grateful for the detailed updates doctors gave on Caltong's recovery. "That made us feel very comfortable no matter what happened," Chunhui said. Gradually, Caltong got on his feet again, motivated to walk to the hospital school for new books.
Packard Children's staff looked out for the whole family's wellbeing. A social worker helped them navigate unfamiliar processes such as obtaining medical leave from work, finding counseling to deal with the shock of the accident and enlisting a Mandarin-speaking interpreter to convey medical information in the family's native language.
"At first, we didn't even know what we needed," Chunhui said. "But we didn't have to struggle by ourselves." Such well-coordinated care is a unique benefit of a top-notch pediatric academic hospital, Koppolu said.
The final result? Now, five months past his accident, Caltong is almost completely healed and his physical and cognitive development are both normal. Recent milestones for his family include the July birth of his baby brother, Jonathan; Caltong's fifth birthday; his first day of kindergarten; and his return to the energetic outdoor play he loves.
These happy events could hardly be more welcome to Chunhui and Yuming, who had to face the nightmare of wondering if their son would ever recover. "He's a very active boy, very talkative," Yuming said with pride. Added Chunhui, "From somewhere, we got him back."
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